Star Ocean TLH is a prequel to the former incarnations of the franchise set in an alternate universe; in this game you take control of a character named Edge Maverick. Edge is a pilot, sent out with his childhood friend Reimi Saionji along with several other ships to find a new home for humanity after Earth was made uninhabitable by World War Three.
Along the way Edge will make new friends and new enemies, among them is Faize, a self conscious member of the Eldarian elf-like species. Add a young girl, a cyborg, a catgirl, a seraphine with glasses, a big breasted elf and the quintessential feminine angst tough guy with weird fashion ideals and you have one of the most clichéd casts seen in a JRPG;so clichéd that even one of the games NPCs comment on it.
The story itself never seems to pick up and just when you thought it was getting started, you are back to square one. It takes upwards of around 20 hours before you realize what the actual story is about, though some may argue that the story is about the journey of the characters. Most of the characters are unfortunately very uninteresting and with the bad voice acting for most of the crew other than Edge and Reimi you may find yourself having a very hard time getting attached to any of them.
The environments range from beautiful to repetitive and boring, most outdoor areas seem to keep a higher standard when it comes to design while the indoor areas will eventually have you pulling your hair out of your roots hoping they'll be over soon. You may even find yourself running through a dungeon for upwards of three hours without any form of plot progression.
The characters lack a lot of detail and textures fade in and out at times, overall the graphics are average but I expected a lot better.
Thankfully the combat in the game is fast paced and in real time, most of your party can hold their own and know what to do in different situations. There is no AI system as advanced as the gambit mode from final fantasy 12, but there are some options to change how they act in battle. As a hardcore player, the inability to select a high enough difficulty during your first playthrough may leave you simply mashing through encounters without any kind of challenge. Regardless, the combat is one of the better ones I have found in a JRPG this generation. Some of the bosses of the game may take as long as twenty minutes to defeat, this is particularly frustrating if you die far into it, but it is worth mentioning that I did not have a single game-over in my playthrough.
Leveling in this game is simple with very little customization, at each completed battle you will receive experience and skill points. The experience points serve to level you up and the skill points are assigned to a variety of skills attained from your levels in order to make them more powerful. A nice addition to leveling is the bonus board during combat, by completing certain conditions in a fight you get bonuses to your skill points, experience, and Fol (money) or refresh a certain amount of your stats after a battle. These bonuses are limited to 14, and carry on from battle to battle until an enemy achieves a critical hit on your main character at which point it collapses.
Another thing that many star ocean fans have grown accustomed to is the crafting systems and there are plenty of items to craft in Star Ocean 4, with over 200 recipes available to find or create you will certainly have your hands full if you wish to create all items. Each character you receive comes with his or her own crafting ability, ranging from smithing to synthesize. My only complaint is that I wasn't able to experiment with combinations on my own and always have to wait for them to get a recipe. Some of the characters also come with a particular harvesting skill, enabling you to harvest objects in the world in exchange for items, experience and skill points.
With mostly Japanese pop and rock I found it hard to immerse myself in the world, the music is alright but it doesn't seem to fit the environments they are placed in and reminded me a lot of Star Ocean 3, in fact some of the music sounded almost identical to the one in Star Ocean 3.
The voice acting range from horrendous to average, I would often get very irritated having to listen to characters monotone voices where it seems the voice actors hadn't put any effort or feeling into their dialogues.
Star Ocean 4 appropriately titled The Last Hope, did not manage to satisfy my desire for a new JRPG. In the great sea of JRPG's recently released for the 360 and about to be released, it unfortunately doesn't stand out. If you are looking for a masterpiece, look elsewhere. However if you're just looking for some light-hearted entertainment to waste away your time with, perhaps it is worth 40+ hours of your time.